Writer/director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary is a bigger, far more ambitious ‘folk horror’ effort with many gorgeous and graphic moments, although, once again, it totally wigs out in the final act.
Put into production shortly after the release of Hereditary (his feature début) last year, this might therefore have looked rushed, and yet there’s a deliberate, even sometimes slow pace to the epic (147 minutes) action, with long dialogue scenes, unnerving stretches of silence and beauties-of-nature sequences that should be lyrical and lovely but rarely are.
The freaky family values of Hereditary are introduced right from the word go as college student Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) suffers a shocking tragedy at just about the same time that her longtime boyfriend Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor), an anthropology graduate, is being encouraged by his friends to get out of the relationship. This means that they’re both hopelessly trapped from the start – and roll the opening credits.
The next summer Dani discovers that Christian and his pals have been invited by his Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to attend a midsummer celebration at the Hårga, his isolated ancestral commune in Sweden (and do you hear those alarm bells ringing?). Dani is then asked to come along out of obligation, much to the not-so-quiet annoyance of Christian’s friends Josh (William Jackson Harper from TV’s The Good Place) and the fairly obnoxious Mark (Will Poulter, he of those creepily arched eyebrows). But the question must be asked: would ANYONE actually damn well go? Aren’t these guys all university students and, you know, smart? Haven’t they seen The Wicker Man?
Anyway, they wind up in a very secluded spot (actually in Budapest) with all the smiling cult, sorry, commune members and things get scary straight away, as they suffer bad mushroom trips, are rattled by the midnight sun and seem to be being groomed for something (naturally). Nevertheless they stay on because everyone seems so friendly, this festival only occurs every 90 years, and as Christian and Josh both want to write about the Hårga in competing theses. And yes, even after the first proper display of bloody terror, when anyone else would have run screaming in the opposite direction.
Some will insist that this disturbing American/Swedish co-production bears little resemblance to Hereditary but there are definite similarities: the emotional agony of the characters; the increasing fatalistic fear and doomy threat; and an awful lot of horrific head trauma.
However, once again, Aster demonstrates that he has a serious issue with ending his films and tying everything up, however unhappily. There’s a point at which he lets the action get completely out of control, especially during a wild sex scene here that’s had audiences laughing uproariously, and yet this is still often grounded by strong playing, particularly by Pugh, another non-American (like Toni Collette in Hereditary) delivering an extraordinary performance of such immense pain that it virtually leaves a stain on your sub-conscious.
Midsommar (R) is in cinemas now